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Celebrating John Cage’s Work in All Its Variety

NEW YORK TIMES THE LIVING ARTS TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, 1988 Review/Music Celebrating John Cage’s Work in All Its Variety By ALLAN KOZINN John Cage’s 76th birthday is on!y two weeks away, on Sept. 5, but his disciples are intent on prolonging the celebration of his 75th up to the last moment. Through July and August, the Museum of Modern Art has been offering works by Mr. Cage at its free Summergarden concerts Friday and Saturday evenings, and Lincoln Center joined the party on Saturday with two free concerts in its Out-of-Doors series. The afternoon concert, “Cage Alfresco,” took place in various sections of Lincoln Center’s North Plaza. The primary work, offered in a continuous two-hour performance by amplified singers (and tape macbines) stationed at the four corners of the reflecting pool, was “Song Books” (1970), a set of nearly 100 pieces, some rather lyrical and in traditional notation, many more free-form and notated graphically. Wandering around the plaza, as the audience was encouraged to do, one was likely to hear a simple, lyrical folk tune in one corner, a falsetto vocalization in another, some taped noise or speech in a third and a quotation from an opera in the fourth. For a while, the bewildered matinee crowd streaming out of “Anything Goes” at the Beaumont Theater added a fine touch. During the performance of “Song Books,” five other works were played. “Winter Music” (1957), played on eight pianos arrayed around the pool, added short, quiet bursts of instrumental color to the proceedings. In the trees near the Metropolitan Opera House, an ambitiously prepared version of “Rozart Mix” (1965), for 12 tape recorders and 88 large tape loops, provided a solid backdrop of ambient noise and raised the decibel level considerably. Toward the end of the “Song Books” performance, the density of simultaneous events grew greater. At one corner of the reflecting pool, Isa- I belle Ganz, a mezzo-soprano, gave a I virtuosic and outgoing performance of “Aria” (1958), while at another I corner, Mr. Cage performed “0’0″,” a 1962 work with instructions that invite the performer to perform an action of any sort. Mr. Cage read a newspaper silently and took notes with a pen that was amplified so that its scratching was audible. At the same time, near the Calder stabile across the pool, John Barlow, a pianist, and Chris Schiff, a trombonist, played Concert for Music and Orchestra (1957-58). And by way of a calm, atonal finale, Ricciotti U.S.A.. a New England-based ensemble conducted by Melvin Strauss, played “Atlas Eclipticalis” (1961) from the Juilliard bridge, overlooking the plaza. The evening concert, called “Cage on Stage,” was a more traditionally structured sit-down-and-listen affair at Damrosch Park. As a prelude, members of Ricciotti U.S.A., with Ms. Ganz and Toby Twining, a baritone, performed “Apartment House 1776” (1976), a rich-textured ensemble work in which folk and dance tunes waft through strands of noise. Ms. Ganz also sang “Forever and Sun-smell” (1942), a conventionally tonal and rather pretty setting of an E. E. Cummings text, and “Royanji,” a work with a ghostly, moaning and rather static vocal line. Both works were accompanied by Joseph Rasmussen, a percussionist. Margaret Leng Tan, the pianist, gave the American premiere of “One” (1988), a spare work with a slow but distinct pulse. ‘ln a Landscape (1948) is an arpeggiated rumination — sweet, pretty and aimless, something new-age historians can point to as an early essay in the style. More interesting were “Water Music” (1952), in which the pianist dials around the stations on a boom box and blows bird whistles, and “In the Name of the Holocaust” (1942), a colorful, hard-edged work for prepared piano. The program also included “Cartridge Music” (1960), for live electronic sounds, produced by a quintet directed by the composer Alvin Lucier, and “Third Construction” (1941), a beautifully textured study in cross-rhythms, played with energy and subtlety by the Mattabasset Percussion Ensemble.